Steelman Race Series

What you see after sunrise is the result of dark mornings. Swim practice starts at 5:30 AM, but I often am already swimming with my lane buddies before five. Three times a week, my alarm goes off at 4:15 AM, and by 4:30, I have my swim parka on and water and yogurt in hand before heading out the door. I’m mostly still half asleep and my brain is convinced I’m in bed or sitting on the sofa with a warm cup of coffee.

Because of all this hard work, the last race of the Steelman Summer Swim Series was that much better: we all got on the podium in our respective age groups!

This was only the third open water race that I’ve done, but I wasn’t nervous at all. Maybe it’s because I swim and paddleboard at Marsh Creek Lake all the time? Maybe it’s because it’s a lake so there are no sharks? Or maybe it’s because I have finally learned how to manage my anxiety when it comes to open water swimming? Probably not because if you threw me in the ocean to swim across a channel or along the shore, I would still be a bit nervous even though I would still do it.

I absolutely loved this swim with it’s rolling start, spacing out swimmers ten seconds apart, and the staggered start times for the different races of three, two, and one mile swims. Except for the first few minutes, I had open water for the two mile swim. As the race went on, the wind picked up, creating a steady chop along the shore section of the course, and the sun shined in my eyes for the same stretch. Overall, I found my swimming groove and took 2nd place in the 40-49 women’s age group. Getting on the podium for the first time in my adult life felt pretty good. I’m sure I’ll be back next year.

Dealing with Anxiety in Triathlon

The mental side of triathlon is often overlooked and brushed aside with the advice that if you just practiced more, your anxiety will fade, and you’ll be a better athlete. Although more practice certainly helps, there are more strategies you can use to help deal with race day anxiety, open water swim anxiety, and the panic that arises on the bike when going downhill fast. I know that’s not parallel structure, and the English teacher inside me cringes, but I’m moving on because I got an open water swim to go to tonight that I’m already anxious about.

You heard me. I swim in open water often, but each time I’m faced with the same fears: what if I have a heart attack and drown? Who will find me on the bottom of the lake? I imagine the lifeguards abandoning their canoes and kayaks to form a search line to see if they can dredge my body up from the bottom. What if I run into that mysterious abandoned buoy that looks like something died? What if a fish nibbles at my toes? What if I get stung by a jellyfish again? What if that sea grass slaps me in the face when I’m least expecting it? What if something pulls me down, down, into the deep? What if someone swims over me or punches or kicks me? Let’s not even talk about sharks… I’ve seen all three Jaws movies, and I know a thing or two about bull sharks swimming way, way upstream in freshwater.

On the bike, my main fears are: descending too fast and hitting a pothole that will cause me to fly over my handlebars, getting a flat on a fast downhill, getting a bee caught in my kit or helmet and getting stung, not turning in time and hitting a tree, a driver looking down at their phone and not seeing me in time, or running over a squirrel or other creature (I did actually run over a squirrel, and thankfully, the poor thing didn’t get caught in my spokes, but that’s another story).

These fears seem ridiculous when written down in that haphazard list, but these are all thoughts that enter my mind, silly or not. Because the first thing I do when dealing with anxiety is to write down all the things I’m afraid of so that they are laid bare. The second thing is just admitting that I have anxiety, which seems like a no-brainer, but it’s an important step to take before you can actually move on to the strategies and putting those strategies to good use. It’s so important (there’s that word again) because you don’t know when you’re going to have a panic attack, but when it does happen, you can say to yourself, “Wait, this is a panic attack. I’m physically OK, but I have to deal with this.”

Once you see what you’re afraid of and can recognize a panic attack from an actual physical issue, you can move on to the strategies. Here are a few that have worked for me, but if you deal with anxiety or depression all the time, get help from your doctor, see a social worker or psychiatrist, and learn more about yourself. Counseling can do wonders.

Strategy #1: Give your brain something to do after you have identified that’s it’s anxiety and not something physically wrong. I like to count my exhale and/or sing my favorite songs in my head. When I exhale, I say “relax” in my head too.

Strategy #2: Turn the volume down on your fears. That list of fears that you made? Yeah, those will pop into your head often. Turn the volume on those fears down by employing strategy #1 so that your inner monologue is louder than your fears.

Strategy #3: Visualization. See yourself being successful. If you’re swimming in open water, when you arrive on site, look around, note the buoys, where lifeguards will be, study the course, and as you warm up, see yourself swimming effortlessly through the water. This is something to practice all the time.

Strategy #4: Go through all the steps and have a routine: get in, get your face wet and exhale under water a few times prior to swimming, start swimming slowly at first and then build your speed, sighting to stay on course. If needed, recover on your back to settle your breathing, adjust your goggles, etc. Give yourself a limit here before you begin to swim again: “I’m going to take two more breaths and then flip over to my right, and then ease back into the swim.”

The bike is a bit different, but the same strategies apply: make a list of what you fear on the bike, visualize yourself taking on the downhills, low on the hoods a first, and then in the drops, have a safety plan in place if you do fall–my Garmin will alert my emergency contacts and call for an ambulance if I crash, which gives me some peace of mind. Practice outside in a safe environment–low traffic roads or trails are ideal, slowly building your speed over time. Focus on your mental game: following your breath, giving your brain something to do on the ride helps as well.

Lastly, know that you are not alone and that all of this takes time, lots of time. Many athletes deal with anxiety during training and on race day. When I’m out there and feel alone, I think about all of my family and friends who support me as an athlete and coach, and I take their positive thoughts with me too. My head is full of them when I’m swimming in a lake as dark as coffee.

If you have some strategies, add them below in the comments. Thank you!

Bear Triathlon Prep and Results

I just have to brag about this athlete, Ben. Ben started working with me to complete an Olympic distance triathlon. For his first Oly, he finished feeling like he could have done the race again. But, at the Bear Triathlon this year, he not only finished the race, but knocked 20 minutes off his previous finish time. This was his first race in cold water with a wetsuit as well.

In order to prepare for the cold water swim in a new wetsuit, we did what every athlete should do: practice. A week prior to race day, we headed out to Medford Lakes, NJ where the water temp was a chilly 60 degrees that froze your face and numbed your feet. It was so cold that my teeth hurt during the whole swim. After starting out too fast, Ben caught his breath and continued to swim for 2000 yards in that freezing lake because he knew what to do to get comfortable swimming in water that cold.

Congratulations, Ben! You never cease to amaze me! He finished his swim fast, held 18+ mph on the bike, and ran a fantastic 10K after having knee surgery earlier this year. I can’t wait to see what else the season holds for you!

Pool Etiquette and Unsolicited Advice

This is a 50 meter, long course pool or Olympic Pool

With pools opening back up, here are some useful reminders about pool etiquette in case you didn’t know. And if you don’t know, now you know.

Many triathletes come to the sport by way of running or cycling, and there seems to be a knowledge gap when it comes to the pool with most triathletes who generally train alone. Here’s some swimming etiquette if you haven’t had the benefit of ever swimming on a team or didn’t grow up around a pool.

As a triathlete, the pool is a chance to recover from the long days on the bike or run, so first things first: know the pool size. Most pools in the States are 25 yards long, one way, or short course yards (SCY), but some are 25 meters (SCM), and others are a whopping 50 meters long, otherwise known as an Olympic pool or long course meters (LCM). Your swim activity app on your watch should have a option for you to select the pool size for proper counting. If you’re not sure if the pool is 25 yards or meters, just ask.

That leads me to another issue: the definition of “lap” as it refers to swimming. Some swimmers say a “lap” is two lengths of the pool for “there and back”, others will argue that it’s one length of the pool. Avoid all debate and just say “length” instead of “lap”. Problem solved.

Lane lines are important too. Lane lines are solid 5 meters out from the wall (flags are placed above where the solid color ends and the broken colors begin). This is so you know how far you are from the wall while doing backstroke since you count your strokes to the wall before turning. When breathing to the side for freestyle, you’ll also know that the wall is coming up is you see a solid color. There is also a red colored marker on all lane lines 15 yards out from the wall, which is an long as you can legally stay under water after pushing off the wall. Everyone swims faster under water and good swimmers use this to their advantage, so streamline and get that free speed off the wall.

We haven’t gotten our toes wet, but before entering a lane to swim in, get permission from the swimmers already there. Hopping in and assuming they will see you is not a good idea because more than likely another swimmer won’t see you until they swim into you. Not a good day in the pool. If there are only two of you, decide if you will circle swim or split the lane. If you split the lane, you will stay to one side of the lane at all times. There is no need for a collision resulting in a concussion.

When circle swimming, swim counter-clockwise, keeping to the right of the black line. If you need to pass, tap the swimmer’s feet. Once at the wall, the swimmer you are passing will move to the far right to let you turn and keep swimming. Do not pass up the middle since the swimmer you are passing might not see you, and if you both get to the wall at the same time, that’s not OK. If you are doing the same workout and leaving the wall at the same time, give the swimmer in front of you space. Wait until their feet are past the solid color on the lane line to provide for adequate spacing while swimming.

When swimming in a masters group, talk to the coach and find out what the swimmers are doing, what the sets are, and where they are in the set. Take turns leading and give a few seconds in between swimmers to prevent swimming at their feet the whole time. The lead swimmer should know the sets, times to leave, etc. If you switch leaders in a lane, the new leader should understand all of this. When arriving late or leaving early, talk to the coach and the other swimmers in your lane so everyone knows what’s going on.

Wall know-how: if turning or finishing at the wall, move over to the far left to leave room for other swimmers to turn and push off and stay clear of the T on the wall. Lead swimmers start on the right and enter the swimming lane on the right of the line. All other swimmers will follow the lead swimmer and enter from the right of the lane.

If possible, swim with swimmers who are close to your speed, leave enough distance between you and other swimmers, and make sure you talk to everyone to ensure smooth swimming. In other words, know your pace per 100 yards–the pace you can swim for a long time. If you’re in a meter pool, add 5-10 seconds to that time, and in a 50 meter pool, add a few more seconds. So, if you are swimming at 1:30 per 100 yards, but the swimmers are at 2:00 per 100 yards, it will be tricky to circle swim with them. Find swimmers closer to 1:40 or 1:20 per 100 yards or +/- 10 seconds from your pace.

You’ve made it this far, so here’s some unsolicited advice for ALL TRIATHLETES:

  1. Do flip turns. They strengthen your core, keep your swimming speed up with less resting which translates well for open water swimming when you don’t get a big breath of air on the wall because there are no walls. Flips turns also help with getting you under the wake you just created from swimming to the wall (free speed!), they will keep your HR steady since you didn’t just gulp a huge breath of air for an open turn, they will enforce a better breathing pattern, and, best of all, you’ll shave 4-8 seconds off of each 100. Just shut up and do them.
  2. Learn all the strokes. Breaststroke is good for sighting in super choppy water, backstroke works your shoulder flexibility and actually makes you a better freestyle swimmer, and butterfly is unmatched for upper body strength needed for open water. Do all four competitive strokes, please, but build them in gradually and do them properly. Join masters swimming while you’re at it too. You will swim faster, get used to swimming with other people, and get coaching on your form. And if you do bust out the butterfly in a triathlon, I want to see that.
  3. Sure, keep track of your swim with your watch, but use the pace clock. For example, if you are doing 6x100s on 2:00, you will leave on the top of an analog clock or on the :00 of a digital clock. Finish each 100 in 1:50 for 10s rest. If you’re doing 100s on 1:45, you will leave on the :00, then the :45, :30, :15, etc. Use the clock, not your watch.
  4. Don’t just swim forever in the pool. You’ll just get better at swimming at a stupid slow speed. Do a workout. Print it and stick it in a baggie. Or take the paper and stick it to a wet kickboard. Just clean up the pool toys when you’re done.
  5. And for the love of all things swimming, KICK. It will help you maintain good swimming form. Do a two-beat kick to keep those legs up. You’re not fooling anyone by not kicking when you say you’re saving your legs for the bike and run because you’re only wearing yourself out more by dragging those legs in your wetsuit and all. Kick, kick, kick.

Swimming is BACK! And in a BIG Way

Indoor pools may still be closed in our area, most races are postponed, or simply won’t happen, BUT open water swimming season is BACK (as well as some outdoor pool swimming)! Here are some places you can go right now in the Philadelphia area:

ETA Coaching in Medford Lake, NJ has five or ten swim passes that you can purchase here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2020-eta-coach-ows-passes-tickets-107366255360

Once you buy your passes, an email is sent out every Monday at noon for you to select the days and times you want to swim. This way, social distancing can be maintained on the small beach at Camp O. ETA offers swims on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

For open water racing, check out French Creek Racing’s series here: https://www.facebook.com/FrenchCreekTriathlon/?__tn__=kC-R&eid=ARA3OQfJMv_M3EVswNSBxrdm9ab_y6LNSVBwX32NLps9EsUxprJS6h2ON9wQmZ5boxmM6cEGlyCe59Qi&hc_ref=ARR1gxg2Zp3wmNc1xULb71ld6L6g2XJSVx4g5pCv5r3P0wuhwVUOLLOumv3TrZAVxm8&fref=nf

This is a link to French Creek Racing’s Facebook page where you’ll find information on open water training swims, open water racing, and pool swims. For pool swimming, French Creek Racing has practices on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at the Upper Merion Township Pool, which is an awesome 50 meter LCM pool. It’s outside, and you can watch the sunset while you swim. That’s a perfect evening to me! Preregistration is required and will be limited to six swimmers per lane.

Mid Atlantic Multisport has a waiting list for a season pass. You must have a season pass to swim at Marsh Creek Lake; swims are on Wednesdays 5-7pm (no Saturdays this year):
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/mid-atlantic-multisport-open-water-swim-series-2020-training-swims-registration-83554739475

All of the open water venues have a marked course with lifeguards. Swim on, people!

Tri AC

Atlantic City’s neon skyline lights up the predawn sky across the back bay. The buoys are out for the swim course on the black water. There was no need for headlamps with the the huge spotlights flooding Bader Field. I easily found my racked bike and started setting up transition, keeping an eye on the time so I could check on my athletes racing today as well. Phil’s bike was next to mine on the rack as he set up for his first Olympic distance event.

At 6am, I met up with my athletes at the bike out for a quick picture, but one of them wasn’t there after waiting for a bit. I hoped he would make it in time for the race (he did, I checked his bike before leaving transition). Even though I’ve done many of these events, I’m always nervous before the swim start: I want to see what’s below, and I don’t want to see what’s in the water, all at the same time, so I tend to focus on eating my pre-race bagel with jelly and chatting with my athletes to see how they’re doing.

I timed the line for the port-o-potty to fill up the last thirty minutes prior to swimming. John Kenny of French Creek Racing was there with Christina, whom I met for the first time. We discussed the swim and the incoming tide, the water temp, the usual swim stuff. Soon, I went back to where Phil was waiting, gave Kathy a big hug before her swim start for the sprint race, and went to find Jamie and Margaret again so we can start swimming at the same time. Megan spotted me, and we talked for a bit before she went to find the rest of her Philadelphia Triathlon Club teammates. It was then that Geoff stopped by to stretch and warm up for the swim. The triathlon community is one big family, which is why I love the sport so much.

It was time to line up for the swim; Phil went to his swim wave and put on his cap and goggles. Jamie and Margaret were there as we made the slow walk to the swim start. Five athletes went into the water at a time off the boat launch to spread out the swim and bike course. Our turn came quickly, but we let the other two athletes in our group of five go ahead, and the three of us entered the water and started the swim. With a temperature at 81.5 degrees F, no wetsuit was needed. The saltwater instantly pickled my mouth, but it was smooth and calm. I passed lots of swimmers, and a few passed me, but I found my rhythm and had space to settle in.

Out of the water, I ran to my bike, quickly donning my gear. The wind was strong on the way out of Bader Field and on the Atlantic City Expressway to exit 5, but I hunkered down in aero and kept going. I got off at exit 5 and flew down the Expressway back to Atlantic City with the tailwind pushing me along. I kept up the pace for the second loop, trading places with Anne Marie from time to time. Christina passed by me and cheered me on. I kept waiting for Phil to pass me on the bike, but he didn’t catch me, and I didn’t see him until the run.

Into T2, I flew off the bike, racked it, and was on my way on the run. Police held back traffic for athletes on the way to the Boardwalk for the 10K. The boards were soft and springy on the run, until I hit the sand. Then, my legs felt like lead. There is always sand on the run at a DelMo Event. I ran with a few other athletes on course, one who was doing his first Olympic distance race.

I enjoyed every moment of the race, and I know my athletes did too. One got 2nd place in his division, another conquered fears of the swim, and others did their first tri ever. Phil isn’t new to the sport, but he did his first Olympic distance race! All of them finished strong, and I couldn’t be happier. I was on my way to getting a PR at that race, but with the shortened swim, it doesn’t count as a PR even though my pace per 100 was seven seconds faster than the last time I swam it. My bike time was three minutes faster too. I would love to do this race again, maybe next year?

Swimskins, Wetsuits, and Tri Suits

Swimskins are fairly new to the sport of triathlon, but are they worth the price tag? Before we dive into what swimskins are and what they can do, let’s review the basic gear for a triathlete when it comes to swimming.

The most basic of gear is a tri suit, which is a one or two piece kit that you can wear comfortably for all three disciplines without adding more layers. Tri suits can be sleeveless or have sleeves like a bike jersey. If the water temperature is at 78 degrees F or above, you’ll need to wear a tri suit if you want to be considered for age-group awards. Tri suits range in price from $80-$250 each, depending on the brand, style, and materials used in making the kit. In reality, a tri suit is not necessary to compete–you can always wear a training swimsuit, throw on a pair of running or cycling shorts and t-shirt for the bike and run. No tri suit needed and no money wasted when you’re getting involved in a new sport; save your cash for the bike because it’s a machine that you throw money at anyway.

Next up in a triathlete’s swimming stash is a wetsuit. Wetsuits come in a variety of shapes and sizes from full legs and sleeves to a shorti wetsuit. If the water is cooler, you would wear your wetsuit over your tri suit for the swim. Wetsuits are fairly easy to put on and take off with practice and have a drawstring attached to the zipper to close the suit and to unzip it as you run towards transition. Wetsuits range in price from $80-$500 and up, so it can be an expensive addition.

The advantage of wearing a wetsuit is the added buoyancy neoprene provides, helping to correct dropped legs and other types of poor swim form and body positioning. Many triathletes swim a few minutes faster for the entire swim segment of the race, but if you’re already a fast swimmer with good form, you might not notice much of a difference. From a personal standpoint, I’m about the same speed with or without a wetsuit, but a wetsuit will keep me warm when the water temps are in the low 60s or upper 50s F.

Now enter the swimskin. A swimskin compresses your body with hydrophobic material to make you cut through the water faster. Swimskins are also worn over the tri suit like a wetsuit and can be worn when the water temp is at 78 degrees F or above. Fast swimmers and pros who swim at 1:20 per 100 meters or faster, save an average of 2-6 seconds per 100 meters, which adds up quickly for an Ironman distance swim of 2.4 miles or 4,224 yards. However, the swimskin offers no extra buoyancy like the wetsuit and does little in the way of correcting poor form. It will reduce drag caused by form and your body line, but if you are an average swimmer, or if swimming is the weaker of the three sports, then it won’t help much in the way of decreasing fatigue caused by form and body position in the water.

So, should you get a swimskin? I wouldn’t. Most age-group athletes won’t actually benefit from wearing one on race day. Sorry, I wouldn’t spend the extra $200-$400 for one. Instead, I would spend more time in the pool since swimming is the neglected sport of most triathletes. If you do spend money on swimming, spend it on joining a masters team, get some new fins, a snorkel, pull buoy, new practice suits, open water goggles, fun swim caps, or a workout book for swimming. The point is: get better at swimming first before making another big gear investment in a swimskin that you’ll use a handful of times in practice and possibly for the wetsuit illegal race. And for the love of all that is holy, do an actual swim workout in the pool, learn how to do flip turns or efficient open turns, do all of the competitive strokes, and use the clock provided because you don’t need a watch for swimming, but that’s another blog post entirely.

Together We Are Strong

Greek Girl Runs will now be V Formation Multisport. So, why the name change? I started out coaching runners, and now I also coach triathletes, and the new name includes all of that.

I’ll reveal the new logo soon, but here is the back story to the new name:

During the swim of Ironman Maryland, the wind picked up the waves, creating a chop. I felt my body go up and down with the swells moving to shore. My wetsuit choked me, making breathing difficult, so I flipped over on my back to steady my breath and look at the sky. A few swimmers splashed me as they passed; I glanced around to spot the kayaks or paddle boards to see how far they were in case I decided to quit. The usual fears invaded my mind–fears of sea life, getting kicked by other athletes, sinking to the bottom without a trace…

But, I couldn’t quit. I am lucky to be able to compete in an Ironman, and I have so many people tracking me at home while my family is waiting at the swim finish. I imagined all of them, near and far as a giant V extending behind me–so they all came with me like an unstoppable wave, and I was at the top, cutting through the brackish waters of the Choptank River.

I held onto that image for the rest of the race and brought it to mind when I could no longer sit on my bike, when my stomach refused to take more food, when I thought I was going to pass out on the run course, and when I thought I was alone in the dark– I knew that wasn’t true: a whole team of people was right behind me.

None of us do anything alone, and the V Formation is proof of that: Geese use it to bear the brunt of the wind, cyclists draft off of teammates and take turns riding ahead, and even the Nike runners used it in Breaking 2 for the attempt at breaking the two hour marathon barrier.

The V Formation is strong, and it works. Because if we work together, great things can happen. I look forward to continuing to train my current athletes with this philosophy, and I always welcome new athletes. Together we are strong. Send me an email to get started: laurie@vformationmultisport.com

Ironman Maryland

While running the marathon of the Ironman, two runners asked me why I was doing this. I can’t remember if I asked them why they too were completing an Ironman or not because that would have been polite (and I was beyond polite at the time).  My memory is foggy at best through the delirium I experienced on the run, but I remember replying to each one of them: “I just don’t know; I should have that answer in a week.” So, if you’re looking for an inspirational blog post about my revelations before, during, and after Ironman Maryland: this is not that kind of post.

And, It’s been a week.

Well, more than that, and I still don’t have an answer to that question. But I do know that I would like to do another. Maybe I’m just out to punish my body– to escape responsibilities in exchange for training– to wake up at 4am to train — to ride for hours on end on Saturdays– to swim endless laps in the pool staring at the black line (actually, I like this part)– or swimming loops around swim buoys in a lake for hours, flicking seaweed away– to run on exhausted legs every. single. day. where every run is absolutely a punishment and all of your running friends leave you behind— or worse– to ride for over five hours on a trainer.

Not all training is grueling. I’ve met some Ironmen who have trained with me on the bike or run, and I adore the masters swim team I train with three times a week, and I’ve met the BEST people while preparing for the Ironman.

In any case, here’s my Ironman story. It’s not pretty, but neither is the Ironman.

Four hours from Chattanooga, Lacey sends me a text: “The swim is cancelled; I’m so pissed.” She was checking in on Thursday for Sunday’s race while I was in the car en route. My heart sank. I was devastated: a year’s worth of training and now the swim is cancelled? How can I call myself an Ironman (silly, I know) if I don’t do the swim? The swim is my best sport of the three. With the new staggered time trial bike start for Chattanooga, I wasn’t sure if I would make the bike cutoff, or if I would get pulled from the course at some point. I vented my frustration on Facebook and to my friend, Catrina, racing in Maryland. Lacey received many of these texts too. Catrina sent a message saying that the race director for Ironman Maryland is doing walk-up registrations on Friday from 10am-1pm and that I should consider changing course and race Ironman Maryland instead. There were 30 slots available.

For many of you who do Ironmans, a walk-up registration the day prior to the race is almost unheard of. Phil and I deliberated in the car for over an hour while parked at a gas station four hours from Chattanooga. I texted family and friends and talked to Cathy for awhile. We decided to take the chance and drive to Maryland. It was five o’clock on Thursday, and we pulled into Cambridge, MD by midnight.

The next day, Phil and Sophia slept in while I drove to the transition area for Ironman Maryland. I arrived by 8am and started asking around about the walk-up registration. One volunteer didn’t think they were doing that–it couldn’t be! I was still determined and hung around, watching athletes practice their swim in the Choptank River. I spoke to anyone who would listen and felt like a total outsider. I didn’t belong here. What was I thinking? Did I throw away Chattanooga for nothing?

I headed to the bike in/out for transition when I noticed more activity. An athlete there spoke to me and mentioned that the race director, Gerry, was the guy in the pick up truck right next to me. He knocked on the window, and Gerry eased my concerns when he said that they are doing walk up registrations at 10am where they were setting up tents. Finally! I hugged Gerry too! I was able to sign up, got my green Ironman band, and then proceeded to panic since I had to race on Saturday instead of Sunday. I had to get all of my gear ready and dropped off by tomorrow. Back to the hotel!

Race day came before I knew it. Phil drove me to transition while Sophia stayed with his parents (they were kind enough to head to MD to watch the race after being so close to Chattanooga). I handed my gear and special needs bags to the volunteers and carried my swim bag to the swim start where I still needed to get a timing chip, or this whole thing would really be for nothing. While waiting for volunteers, I forced myself to eat something more, but ended up dry heaving in a trash can near the swim start. I found Catrina and Dylan and calmed down chatting with them and getting my wetsuit on. Soon, Catrina and I lined up for the swim ready to go.

In the corral, I talked to experienced Ironmen and calmed down again. I was ready and still had to pee, which I couldn’t possibly do in my wetsuit. All of that vanished in the rolling swim start–I got my head wet, adjusted my goggles, and swam for the buoys, one at a time. Waves lifted me up and down as I swam forward. My wetsuit felt tight around my neck despite cutting it lower. I flipped over on my back three times before the first turn buoy 500 meters away just to breathe. I thought about quitting and searched for a kayaker. The waves were choppy enough that sighting was difficult, but I told myself I am a good swimmer, I won’t drown, and I have a wave of people who support me coming along for this race. I closed my eyes and pictured all of them following me like geese in formation. I am not alone. I held this image throughout the swim for all 2.4 miles. Whenever I hit sea nettles with my hands that bubbled up from the deep, I pictured my friends and family with me. As I prepared to exit the swim, my calves seized up, and I wan’t sure if I would be able to stand let alone ride my bike. I flexed my feet to stretch out before getting out of the water, which seemed to help.

In the changing tent, a volunteer helped me with my cycling gear while I drank a protein shake, swallowed a salt stick capsule, and ate some gummies. I found a port-o-potty on the way to my bike. Phil found me and cheered me on while I ran with my bike to bike out.

The bike course was fast, flat, and windy. So many cyclists passed me in the beginning, but I stuck to my plan and held my pace and heart rate to prevent burning out later in the race: I ate every forty-five minutes, drank a bottle of Tailwind every hour, and stopped to pee. Around mile 50, I knew I was going to have GI issues, so I stopped again, ate a banana every time my fingers tingled–that happened three times on the ride. Overall, I thought I was going to be OK for the run. By mile 70, I could no longer sit on my saddle and adjusted my position every few minutes. I sang songs out loud to myself and passing cyclists. Wind pushed me around when I was in aero, but I tried to enjoy all of it–even the last 42 miles of wind, wind, and more wind. I smiled for the sports photographer, watched a blue heron land, and traced the ripples on the water as I rode by. I wanted to be here, and I’m lucky to be here.

As I entered transition to prepare for the run, I saw my support crew, which made me feel really happy. I started the run strong with the intent to walk as needed. My stomach was still uneasy, but I ate some pretzels and drank some Gatorade Endurance upon leaving transition. I felt good. Bring on the 26.2 miles!

The first 8 miles went well, then GI issues were back in full force. I went through cycles of feeling hungry, dizzy, and dry heaving, to full for a few minutes, followed by severe stomach cramping that stopped me in my tracks. By mile 16, I could no longer run because of my stomach. All I could eat was chicken broth, pretzels, and water. The aid station made me want to vomit with its cookies, gels, bars, and Gatorade. Just give me chicken broth, please.

The cycle of nausea, temporary relief, and stomach cramps stayed with me for the rest of the marathon. I saw Catrina and Dan twice on the run through some of the most desolate sections of the course–seeing them gave me the motivation to keep going. I tried to speed walk, did calculations in my head to see if I would make the cut offs, felt utterly alone in the darkness when the crowds went home, and when my friends were ahead of me. If I passed out, who would find me? Should I go to medical? All would be lost if I did that, so I continued anyway. At the last turn around, the bright lights made me dizzy, so I looked at the blood orange moon instead. I heard Mike Reilly calling out names of athletes who finished, and I desperately wanted to get to that red carpet.

I passed the last cut off, so I could walk if I needed to. This was such a relief. I heard a song that reminded me of Sophia’s friend, Hope, who beat cancer, and began crying as I ran to the last turn around. How many people are able to do this? How many people have the financial means to do so? How many people have the luxury to train and the family support behind them? I walked faster and maybe even ran. I don’t remember.

After the last turn around, I started to see people behind me, which made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Thank goodness. At the last aid station, I ate an orange, possibly the best orange I’ve ever tasted and kept speed walking. When I hit that red carpet, “Stayin’ Alive” was blasting from the speakers, I sang, I danced, I shook Mike Reilly’s hand, and I became an Ironman.

To answer that question about why I was doing all of this, it’s because the challenge is there, and I can.

Thank you to my coach, Mary Kelley, without whom none of this would have been possible. She make schedule changes, told me when to take a break, and pushed me when I needed it. Thank you to Phil and Sophia for putting up with all of my training days, cleaning the house, cooking dinner while I napped, and for being supportive even when I was hangry, which was all the time. Thank you to my family who had to work around my training while I visited and watched Sophia on the long rides–I took my bike everywhere I traveled this past summer. Thank you to Jan and Clint for driving to Maryland to watch me race and to Aunt Nancy for making so many phone calls to secure lodging in Cambridge. Thank you to Friends Central Masters Swim Team, coached by Kerry, for making me faster and for the friendships there. Thank you to all of the Ironmen I know: Cathy, who got me into this sport in the first place, Dan, Mary, Mary, Lacey, Amajit, Lou, Catrina, Dylan, Bill, Sue, Steele, and John. For being .01% of the world’s population who have completed an Ironman, I know a lot of you! Thank you to all of my running friends near and far: Kim, Marianne, Caroline, Gene, Mira (my running twin), Jen, Megan, Hua, Kelly, and the running pups: Moose, Marla, and Packer! Thank you to my friends all over the place who never doubted that I could do it–Becky, Vince, Angela, and Amanda. I’m sure I missed someone, so thank you everyone!

USAT Nationals

 

Cleveland is my home town, so when USAT decided to hold Nationals for 2018 there, I was beyond thrilled. Two of my athletes were also competing as well, which meant that a trip to Cleveland was in order.

If I’m not participating, I love to be a spectator for these events. The weather leading up to Nationals looked iffy at best with thunderstorms in the forecast, but by race day the skies cleared, and the Lake was deemed safe for swimming after high bacteria levels from storms forced beach closures on Tuesday.

At 7am on race morning, the water was calm like glass. That quickly changed–winds picked up and hacked at the smooth surface, creating greater than two foot choppy conditions far away from shore where athletes cut through the water. Sighting with water slamming your face from every direction is nearly impossible, yet the swim went on for over two hours with staggered heats to prevent bike traffic and congestion on course.

I set up the app to track my athletes, got coffee, and sat down on the rocks near the Lake to watch the swim. From the rocks, I could see where the bike and run courses seemed to overlap from the Shoreway to the trails below, which made this event very spectator-friendly. The Lake was clear from my vantage point revealing the rocks hidden below. But don’t let the calmness fool you–Lake Erie is one of the most treacherous of all the Great Lakes with an average depth of 55 feet and a max of 210 feet combined with a nasty undertow that has pulled many swimmers offshore and has swallowed numerous ships en route to interior ports. One man from Oklahoma died during the race and was found floating at the surface, rendering CPR useless. He was pulled out by the US Coast Guard who did their best to resuscitate him. (I didn’t find out about this until after I got home since I was already waiting for one of my athletes to exit the water).

Because of the location at Edgewater Beach, I was able to see each of my athletes finish the swim and locate them on the bike and run course. This was a challenging race with one of the hardest swims I’ve ever seen combined with hills on the bike and run. Athletes who competed in this event are tough, just like the city of Cleveland.

Cleveland is the kind of town that gets up when it’s knocked down, and this event is part of the revitalization of this rust-belt city.  I hope that all of the athletes enjoyed Nationals, despite its challenges and tragedy, and will come back to visit the city to appreciate its museums, especially the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame, the restaurants, the West Side Market, Playhouse Square, and much more. If you are an athlete visiting the city of Cleveland, bring your gear! Cleveland has hundreds of miles of trails and roads through the Cleveland Metroparks and along the Towpath for the Ohio and Erie Canal. I’m happy that USAT chose Cleveland to host Nationals, and I’m proud to be born and raised in this great city.

Congratulations to my athletes for competing in a tough race with the best in the nation!

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